Friday, June 27, 2014

#nipster

In February, Tim and Kevin started Balaclava Kueche, Germany's first Nazi vegan cooking show...the first episode: mixed salad, tofu scramble. "The left-wing doesn't have a prior claim to veganism," says Tim. "Industrial meat production is incompatible with our nationalist and socialist world views." 

Even Nazis can be hipsters and wear Che Guevara uniforms. It is a strange world indeed.

Back in his 2010 book What Was the Hipster?, Mark Greif described the term as meaning a "consumer" who "aligns himself both with rebel subculture and with the dominant class and thus opens up a poisonous conduit between the two." 

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It's a rainy Sunday evening in May, in the town of Weiden, in northeastern Bavaria, and Patrick Schroeder, whom the German press has dubbed the "Nazi-hipster," is preparing for his big webcam entrance. As the opening sequence for his weekly Internet TV show, FSN.tv, plays silently in the background, he ties a bandana stitched with the slogan "H8" around his mouth and fiddles with his mouse. A map of Germany in 1937 hangs on the wall above him.

"If the Third Reich was so bad, it would have been toppled," he argues, before the filming begins. "Every half-intelligent person knows there is no system where everything was bad."


FSN.tv is Germany's only neo-Nazi Internet TV show, and in the two years since it has existed it has turned Schroeder into a well-known, if highly controversial, figure in the German extreme right, largely because he has been open about his desire to give the German neo-Nazi movement a friendlier, hipper face.

Over the past year, partly because of leaders like Schroeder and partly because of the unstoppable globalization of youth culture, the hipsterification of the German neo-Nazi scene has begun to gain steam. This winter, the German media came up with a new term, "nipster," to describe the trend of people dressing like Brooklyn hipsters at Nazi events.

The term hipster has, of course, always been notoriously slippery. Back in his 2010 book What Was the Hipster?, Mark Greif described the term as meaning a "consumer" who "aligns himself both with rebel subculture and with the dominant class and thus opens up a poisonous conduit between the two."  

But in Germany, as elsewhere, the newly discovered hipster is often reduced to its more superficial component parts: "skinny jeans, a bushy beard, bright sunglasses" (Welt), "strange, nerdy and somehow different," (Sueddeutsche Zeitung), "self-important culture snobs" (Tagesspiegel). Here, the hipster is simultaneously a uniform, a cooler-than-thou weltanschauung and signpost of globalized American youth culture and consumerism.

"We don't want to cut ourselves off," Knape says, about hipster culture. "I see rap and hip-hop, for example, as a way of transporting our message." In recent years, a number of extreme-right hip-hop acts have emerged in Germany — with names like Makss Damage and Dee Ex. Despite the awkward politics of using hip-hop to preach the virtues of German identity, they've amassed a small, but significant presence within the scene. Dee Ex, for example, has over 7,000 likes on Facebook and posts photos of herself in a revealing outfit on her blog. There is now neo-Nazi techno (biggest act: DJ Adolf) and neo-Nazi reggae. 

Knape, on his end, has also gotten increasingly invested in online culture: "The Internet allows us to reach people we can't reach on the street." Now young people can get in touch with him over Facebook or e-mail without their parents, or anybody else, finding out. "They don't need to out themselves immediately," he says. Knape is especially proud of his viral-video outreach: last year, his group filmed a "Harlem Shake" video. In the JN video, people in masks bounce around junked cars while one of them holds up a sign saying "Have more sex with Nazis, unprotected."  It has over 17,000 hits on YouTube.

But, perhaps partly because of this internationalization of German culture, Knape struggles to define the "German traditions" he's trying to preserve. It's understandable: Germany, even by European standards, is a supremely contrived state composed of 300 formerly distinct political entities. Founded in 1871, it is also younger even than Canada — there's a reason Hitler had to reach back to centuries-old, mythical folklore when trying to sell people on the idea of Germanic superiority. 

Knape says he wants more people to mark the "Sonnenwende" or solstice — a celebration the Nazis tried to revive in the Hitler era — for example, and to preserve the German language. He is concerned that "these days, we see a lot of people mixing German and English" — though he acknowledges that when it comes to technology, it's "not easy to avoid." He notes, with some resignation, that there is no German word for "hashtag."

In their latest 2013 report, the Bundesverfassungschutz concluded that there are approximately 22,000 members of the extreme right in Germany, including 9,600 who are "willing to engage in violence." According to official statistics,they committed 473 violent crimes against foreigners last year — a shocking 20 percent rise over the previous year.

In September, for example, three suspected neo-Nazis brutally beat a 15-year-old in Saxony, allegedly because the boy was half Taiwanese. The same month, a Turkish immigrant was nearly beaten to death by a group of nine alleged neo-Nazis in a train station in Saxony-Anhalt and this February, a group of more than a dozen neo-Nazis walked into a community center in the town of Ballstaedt, in the state of Thuringia, and began assaulting the attendees at a party, sending two of them to the hospital.

Although the extreme right has existed in Germany, in various forms, since World War II, the neo-Nazi scene as it exists today largely took shape in the 1980s, and spread dramatically after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Especially in the post-reunification East, where young people were suddenly robbed of the Communist strictures and institutions they had grown up with, extreme-right politics provided an easy outside explanation for their economic and cultural alienation: multiculturalism, asylum seekers, American "imperialism," Israel and global big business.

Around the turn of the 21st century, the skinhead look waned and the scene underwent another philosophical and aesthetic transformation. "Society had started to react against the extreme right, and it became less attractive for young people to stigmatize themselves," says Simone Rafael, the editor-in-chief of Netz Gegen Nazis, a blog that monitors the extreme right. As a result, a new extreme-right group, the Autonomous Nationalists (AN), began aping the look of the extreme left — black hoodies, black pants and even Che Guevara T-shirts (with the words "Not only Che would be with us") — and incorporating traditionally progressive issues like environmentalism and animal rights  into neo-Nazi ideology. "Once [neo-Nazi leaders] saw it was successful, it was taken up by the scene," says Rafael.

These developments helped spur the notion, now championed by Knape and Schroeder, that young neo-Nazis should be allowed to dress however they want, as long as they have the "right" anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic ideas. This newly relaxed approach allows neo-Nazi leaders to attract young people from different subcultures and makes neo-Nazis more difficult for their opponents to identify. "Now the neo-Nazi youth culture is really broad," says Christoph Schulze, one of several left-wing activists who assemble the annual Versteckspiel ("Hide and seek"), a glossary of symbols used by members of the extreme-right to surreptitiously identify one another.

Those aforementioned symbols include everything from number codes (the most obvious: "88" to replace "Heil Hitler" — because "H" is the eighth letter in the alphabet) to logos (an eagle catching a Christian ichthys — a symbol of Germanic strength over "degenerates") to sayings ("14 words," which stands for a quote by American white nationalist David Lane). "The movement is always changing," Schulze says. "One thing goes out of fashion and there's already something new. This year it's the hipster."

The nipster came to widespread attention in February of this year, when a photographer snapped a picture of a group of men wearing skinny jeans, unruly beards, plug piercings — and, in one case, a tote bag with the words "don't shove me, I've got a joghurt in my bag" — at an NPD march in Magdeburg. The photo quickly went viral in Germany and bloggers came up with the new portmanteau. Taz, the left-leaning Berlin daily, made a list of other hipster stances the Nazis could adopt ("change your favorite band when they become too mainstream."). 

In recent years, a growing number of neo-Nazi groups have staged savvy viral campaigns, including one where they dressed up as the Sesame Street Cookie Monster and distributed pamphlets to schoolchildren, and another involving a man in a bear costume calling himself the "deportation bear" and posing in front of Hanover Turkish shops. "They can easily produce something that has the appearance of looking hip," says Koehler. "These aren't just dumb East German youth — they understand how to package their political ideology." 

Tim and Kevin, two 21-year-old self-proclaimed "nationalists and socialists" ("but anyone who reads this will know we're Nazis") from Hanover — who did not want to give their real names — say they have also noticed more people in the scene dressing like "hipsters," with skinny pants and tote bags. "It's noticeable," Tim says, over the phone, and explains that everything that emerges in German mainstream culture ends up in the [neo-Nazi] scene, just with a delay. "We don't walk around the city center with our eyes closed," he says, "we see what people are wearing on TV." He also agrees that the Nazi Tumblr style has gotten "more youthful" and "looser."

In February, Tim and Kevin started Balaclava Kueche, Germany's first Nazi vegan cooking show. In each episode, the two chatty, fast-talking men wear facemasks and earnestly explain to viewers how to make an array of vegan dishes (the first episode: mixed salad, tofu scramble). "The left-wing doesn't have a prior claim to veganism," says Tim. "Industrial meat production is incompatible with our nationalist and socialist world views."  

And then there are the Identitaeren, a two-year-old group with origins in France that has gotten widespread attention for its use of stylish viral videos to promote anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant sentiment. Although claiming to be anti-Nazi, they, like many members of the extreme right, espouse a concept called ethnopluralism, which argues that ethnic groups should only live in their respective home countries. Nils Altmieks, the movement's boyish, 27-year-old current leader, argues that Europe should be for Europeans — and not, for example, Africans — and cites the United States as an example of the dangers of embracing heterogeneity. "Multiculturalism isn't a contribution to cultural understanding, it's a cornerstone for conflict," he says, over Skype. He becomes wishy-washy when pressed about the exact borders of Europe ("Some might view Russia as European") and can't account for countries, like Canada, with high immigration and low crime.

German extremism researcher Alexander Haeusler has warned that the Identitaeren are insidiously attempting to make "racism modern and hip." Last year, group members filmed themselves disrupting a multiculturalism conference with a blaring boombox and they also have a dedicated video blogger — a stylish-looking young man who often wears thick plastic glasses frames and a hoodie and whose most recent dispatch is about the moral peril of eating ethnic food. In other videos they've dumped rubble in front of the office of a Green Party politician and posed with silly-looking 300-inspired shields in front of the Brandenburg Gate. "We aren't consciously a hipster movement, but today's young people grew up with this background," says Altmieks. "This is part of society." His favorite movie, he says, is Braveheart. 

Coincidentally or not, the emergence of the nipster has taken place at the same time as the rise of a new far-right political scene in Europe: In this May's European elections, the National Front — the anti-immigrant party headed by Marine Le Pen — won the biggest voting share of parties in the French elections, and the British United Kingdom Independence Party won 27.5 percent of the vote in the U.K. Many people link these parties' success to their ability to package themselves as a friendlier, less-threatening far right. Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde has argued that these parties largely swept into power by linking the euro crisis "to their core ideological features: nativism, authoritarianism and populism." 

The current German wave of, for instance, hip, vegan neo-Nazis functions in a similar way. Rafael says they attempt to slide into debates where young people wouldn't expect them, and then sell their politics as a palatable outlet. "They use subjects like globalization and animal protection as entry points, and then offer a very simple worldview that makes complex subjects very easy to understand," says Rafael. "Of course, in the end, it's always about racism and anti-Semitism and nationalism."  The danger — in both cases — is that extreme-right positions might quietly shift into the mainstream.

Over the past two years, Cynthia Miller-Idriss, an associate professor at American University in Washington, D.C., has been conducting research with young people in Berlin schools who are on the periphery of the extreme-right. She says that, if anything, the change in neo-Nazi fashion has made it more difficult to step in when young people are being embroiled in the scene. "If you were a teacher," she says, "you used to be able to identify a skinhead in your class and you could think of ways to intervene. But now it's harder to mainstream society to understand who these young people are and to engage with them."

Miller-Idriss suggests that for a generation raised on Facebook and Twitter, it may no longer feel ridiculous to, say, love Rihanna in real life but disparage black people on Facebook. "The social media space allows young people to have different expressions of their identities in different places," she says. "This generation of youth likes the idea of having more control over their own identity. They've realized your style doesn't have to be connected to your ideology. You can dress however you want to and still be a neo-Nazi."

The stakes in the fight against extremism, of course, are more than just semantic. Several weeks ago, after Dortmund's local elections, a group of about 20 neo-Nazis appeared outside city hall to protest the recent banning of an extreme-right group. They yelled "Germany for the Germans" and "foreigners out" and began singing the national anthem before attacking people outside the building with pepper spray and broken bottles, injuring ten. Dortmund city councilors have been meeting under police protection ever since. 

Back in Bavaria, Patrick Schroeder is driving around downtown Weiden with his former co-host, Martin, a clean-cut 27-year-old computer programmer. Martin is not his real name, but he's already lost his job twice because of his politics, and is worried about jeopardizing his newest position. Both men are complaining about the repression they face on the job market as neo-Nazis — since finishing his training as a salesman, Schroeder has only worked for companies tied to the scene. "We're the new Jews in Germany," he says, "except we don't wear stars." 

They pull into the parking lot of a local Ernest Hemingway-themed restaurant and walk into a room crowded with people watching a soccer game. Heads turn. Schroeder is wearing a T-shirt of an extreme-right band called Terrorsphaera ("Terrorsphere") with blood-like paint splatters. Martin, on the other hand, is dressed in gingham shirt, and looks like a character on Silicon Valley. The waitresses are all blonde and wearing "We love Germany" T-shirts, in honor of the upcoming World Cup, and as he sits down, the multiple men in the room give him dirty looks.

Schroeder also seems aware that the concepts of Germany and Europe — and, for that matter, America — are becoming increasingly theoretical. In the background, a soccer game is playing on the bar's big screens, and it helps launch him on a tortured metaphor explaining why Asian immigrants don't qualify as Germans. "It's like if the Chinese bought 22 Brazilians and gave them Chinese passports and used them to win the World Cup," he mopes. "If everybody's the same, then what's the point?"

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Link: http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/heil-hipster-the-young-neo-nazis-trying-to-put-a-stylish-face-on-hate-20140623

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regards